French Armed Forces 1939


French flagStrength, organization, equipment and divisions of the French Army and aircraft of the l’Army de l’Air in September 1939.

Maginot Line

Only the observation tower is visible ! The Maginot Line was constructed from the Swiss border to Longwy from 1929 onward for 2.9 Billion Francs.

France emerged from World War One with considerable military prestige, but the French Forces and indeed the whole nation were exhausted. After the experiences of World War One, there was considerable weight of opinion, and political pressure behind the view that a strategy based upon a solid defensive line accorded best with the demands of modern warfare and the needs of the country.

The result was the construction of the fortress complexes of the Maginot Line, which absorbed a great deal of the defense budget.
The French military establishment had its critics, and there was a small but vociferous school of thought which condemned the reliance on static fortifications.

The French Army, based on conscription, was of variable quality; reserve divisions especially were often considered a liability, and observers, including the British General Brooke, were shaken by their insubordination and slovenly appearance.
The French Army was mobilized on 1 September 1939: about 5,000,000 reservists were to be added to the standing army of 900,000 men.


Basic French Army units:

 Infantry DivisionCavalry DivisionLight DivisionPanzer Battalion
Total units 91 (30 regular, 13 fortresses, 12 North African and 9 colonial)5339
Infantery regiments3 with 3,000 men and 80 officers each)? 1 with 3,000 men and 80 officers-
Officers500???
NCOs, Privates "17000"???
Total men17,500? ??
Machine guns514 (168 heavy, 346 light)?160 (48 heavy, 112 light)?
Mortars51 (27 light, 24 heavy)?17 (9 light, 8 heavy)?
Howitzers and Field guns 60 (36 x 75mm M1897/17, 12 x 105mm, 12 x 155mm)???
Anti-tank guns49 (43 x 25mm, 6 x 47mm)?6 (25mm)?
Tanks-45 - 6090 - 120 plus armored cars45 - 60
French soldiers moving a heavy artillery gun

French soldiers moving a heavy artillery gun. Much of the French equipment was still from World War I.


Inventory of armored fighting vehicles in September 1939:

Armored Fighting VehiclesInventory
Renault FT-17 c. 1,600
Char 2C10
AMC-3588
Hotchkiss H-35, H-39 821
Char B1365 (until June 1940)
Renault AMR 33c. 200
Renault R-35 c 1,600
Somua S-35500 (until June 1940)
Total c. 4,200 in September 1939
Hotchkiss H-35 tank.

French Hotchkiss H-35 tank.


Strength of l’Army de l’Air (French Air Force)

The air defense of France and her overseas Empire was the responsibility of five Air Regions (Dijon, Paris, Tours, Aix-en-Provence and North Africa) each of which was sub-divided into two Air Districts. The largest flying formations were the air divisions and independent brigades. An air division had two or three brigades each with two or three squadrons.
Front line strength on the eve of WW2 was 1,114 fighters, 1,002 bombers and 800 reconnaissance aircraft and in August 1939 there were 110,000 personnel of all ranks, a figure which had risen to 150,000 March 1940.

Strength l’Army de l’Air:

Known French aircraft types in 1939Approx. numbers of planes
Dewoitine D500 fighter100
Liore et Oliver bomber300
Amiot 143 bomber140
Bloch MB fighter85
Farman F222 bomber?
Potez 63 heavy fighter80
Curtiss Hawk P-36 fighter150
Morane -Saulnier MS 406 fighters

New Morane-Saulnier MS 406 fighters straight from Bouguennais are prepared for service at an Army de l’Air unit in the autumn of 1939. The MS 406 was as numerous as the Me 109 E in spring 1940.


French Forces total

5,000,000 men, 99 divisions, 4,200 tanks, about 11,000 guns
2,916 planes (1,114 fighters, 1,002 bombers)
7 capital ships, 1 aircraft carrier, 19 cruisers, 70 destroyers, 75 submarines

Call of War

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